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EU Court slaps eRetailer over fee for faulty used laptop

A case that was settled this week in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in favour of the consumer concerned a German distance retailer that tried to charge a buyer who returned a second-hand laptop for the eight months of use she had had from it. The retailer said that the woman had got eight months of use out of the €278 second hand laptop before the screen stopped working. The ECJ ruled that Germany is NOT allowed to have a law allowing the charge for use.

Know the law

The case should be of interest to Manufacturers selling directly to consumers as it once again underlines the care that should be taken in managing the communication of contract terms and return procedures to consumers, and the handling of returning goods. A consumer could easily embarrass a brand owner who tries to impose too-tight return considerations.Online retailers cannot reclaim some of the purchase price of goods even if they are returned after a long time and have given the user some benefit, an advocate general of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has said.

Return period of seven days (plus three months...)

Buyers can return goods and get a full refund in the first one to two weeks of ownership of goods, said advocate general Verica Trstenjak. That right can last for months if the seller does not send the buyer the right paperwork correctly outlining a buyer's right to withdraw from a contract. Retailers are barred from imposing charges and penalties on people returning goods."The only charge that may be made to the consumer because of the exercise of his right of withdrawal is the direct cost of returning the goods," says Article 6 of the Distance Selling Directive. "For any distance contract the consumer shall have a period of at least seven working days in which to withdraw from the contract without penalty and without giving any reason," says the Directive.Even though the right of withdrawal need only last seven days under the Distance Selling Directive, but if the retailer does not inform the customer of the right properly then it lasts until seven days after that information is provided for up to three months. German law says that that right does not expire until the notice of the right of withdrawal is provided to the customer, which is why the German woman could still exercise it after eight months.Trstenjak said that she recognised retailers' concerns that some people might take advantage of the Directive's protections, but that this was no excuse to erode everybody's rights. "The fear of abuse by individuals may not generally result in the protection of rights guaranteed under Community law being restricted for everyone," she said. "For that reason alone, a provision such as the one at issue cannot fall within the discretion of Member States."Source: OUT-LAW.comOnline sellers should carefully check terms and conditions of return on their site, and compare them to the Distant Selling Regulations. In the case of doubt, you should lean in favour of the consumer. An excellent guide is also available on the OUT-LAW site.

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